Talking the talk vs. walking the walk

Misguided blame—America apologists, ranting political partisans and hopelessly myopic media reporters have been having a field day of late with all manner of supposed transgressions committed by Government officials and the U.S. military.

First, the Democrats in the U.S. Senate feigned horror that John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for UN ambassador, may have acted in a somewhat brusque manner in past interactions with his associates. In the Democrats' minds, a forceful personality and strong convictions somehow disqualifies a person for high—level international negotiations when dealing with a corrupt organization and blatantly anti—American rogue states.

Then came the 'revelation' by Amnesty International that the U.S. terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay was apparently the equivalent of the torturing, murderous Soviet gulags. A skilled, objective observer might be able to spot the subtle differences between the two—such as the fact that the gulags were filled with innocent people while Gitmo is populated with enemy combatants captured on the field of battle, or the fact that inmates at the gulags were subject to inhumane conditions leading to countless deaths while Guantanamo's detainees (most of whom haven't come down with so much as a cold) are fed culturally—appropriate meals, given holy material and afforded generous prayer time. However, those slight factual disparities didn't prevent AI from gratuitously attacking America on the world stage, much to the delight of our country's critics.

The most recent occurrence, of course, was Senator Dick Durbin's by now well—documented shameless, pathetic discharge on the Senate floor where he likened some Guantanamo detainees' treatment to the Cambodian killing fields under Pol Pot and the Nazi concentration camps in World War II. He has since 'apologized,' making liberal use of the caveat 'if' (as in '...if anyone was offended,' implying that there are correct—thinking people who weren't offended) so as not to actually make any admission of wrongdoing.

These are all examples of taking the morally cowardly way out, of being afraid of holding those who perpetrate bad actions accountable for those actions, preferring instead to criticize the people or institutions that hold others to a high standard of behavior and performance.  The UN is a defective, dysfunctional entity and the U.S.—and the world—would benefit by the tough non—apologetic approach of a John Bolton. The terrorists at Gitmo are just that—terrorists—and should be treated as such.

When individuals or groups commit offenses, too many outside groups are all too willing to rush in to their defense and excuse their behavior. The reasons why such behavior is so often tolerated and excused is best left to the sociologists and behaviorists to sort out. For this discussion, it's enough to note its alarmingly increasing prevalence.

One way the growth of this cancerous, non—accountable mindset can be stopped is by people in positions of influence having the courage to buck the trend and do the right thing, even when it's unpopular. One of the most important fronts in this culture war is in the classroom of our public schools.

There is a teacher in the Boston Public School system, a veteran of 31 years, who is truly fighting the good fight against lower standards and non—accountability. She teaches high school chemistry and biology to classes comprised predominantly of minorities and immigrants. These are arguably the toughest courses in high school, especially if they're taught correctly. Four years ago, 'Miss Z,' as she's known to her students, instituted a new policy in her classes that has parents (single and married alike) cheering, school administrators in a dither, and students working harder than ever. Her policy? No D's allowed. Students either pass with a legitimately earned C or they fail. Period. No excuses, no exceptions, not even for seniors on the cusp of graduating. Mediocrity is not tolerated or rewarded in Miss Z's classes. Extra help is always available (she routinely stays after school for hours helping students while most other teachers are in their cars five minutes after the closing bell) and the students'attitude and effort count as well. But in the end, the bottom line is still the bottom line: 70 passes, 69 fails.

The result is surprising. Her pass rate exceeds that of the other science teachers at the school, and her students, of course, have a far better understanding of the material. She's also extremely popular among the student body, with students clamoring to get into her class. It's tough, but they know from the unrelenting win—loss nature of the courses that they're being prepared for the challenges of imminent adulthood. Miss Z tells them so, explicitly, and they respond accordingly and appropriately.

This is walking the walk, doing the right thing even when it's not easy or popular. Trying to win popularity contests, putting others' approval ('We want America to be admired by other countries, above all else!') ahead of genuine accomplishment, and allowing wrongs to go unpunished only leads to more of the same. Enough talk.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.

Misguided blame—America apologists, ranting political partisans and hopelessly myopic media reporters have been having a field day of late with all manner of supposed transgressions committed by Government officials and the U.S. military.

First, the Democrats in the U.S. Senate feigned horror that John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for UN ambassador, may have acted in a somewhat brusque manner in past interactions with his associates. In the Democrats' minds, a forceful personality and strong convictions somehow disqualifies a person for high—level international negotiations when dealing with a corrupt organization and blatantly anti—American rogue states.

Then came the 'revelation' by Amnesty International that the U.S. terrorist detention center at Guantanamo Bay was apparently the equivalent of the torturing, murderous Soviet gulags. A skilled, objective observer might be able to spot the subtle differences between the two—such as the fact that the gulags were filled with innocent people while Gitmo is populated with enemy combatants captured on the field of battle, or the fact that inmates at the gulags were subject to inhumane conditions leading to countless deaths while Guantanamo's detainees (most of whom haven't come down with so much as a cold) are fed culturally—appropriate meals, given holy material and afforded generous prayer time. However, those slight factual disparities didn't prevent AI from gratuitously attacking America on the world stage, much to the delight of our country's critics.

The most recent occurrence, of course, was Senator Dick Durbin's by now well—documented shameless, pathetic discharge on the Senate floor where he likened some Guantanamo detainees' treatment to the Cambodian killing fields under Pol Pot and the Nazi concentration camps in World War II. He has since 'apologized,' making liberal use of the caveat 'if' (as in '...if anyone was offended,' implying that there are correct—thinking people who weren't offended) so as not to actually make any admission of wrongdoing.

These are all examples of taking the morally cowardly way out, of being afraid of holding those who perpetrate bad actions accountable for those actions, preferring instead to criticize the people or institutions that hold others to a high standard of behavior and performance.  The UN is a defective, dysfunctional entity and the U.S.—and the world—would benefit by the tough non—apologetic approach of a John Bolton. The terrorists at Gitmo are just that—terrorists—and should be treated as such.

When individuals or groups commit offenses, too many outside groups are all too willing to rush in to their defense and excuse their behavior. The reasons why such behavior is so often tolerated and excused is best left to the sociologists and behaviorists to sort out. For this discussion, it's enough to note its alarmingly increasing prevalence.

One way the growth of this cancerous, non—accountable mindset can be stopped is by people in positions of influence having the courage to buck the trend and do the right thing, even when it's unpopular. One of the most important fronts in this culture war is in the classroom of our public schools.

There is a teacher in the Boston Public School system, a veteran of 31 years, who is truly fighting the good fight against lower standards and non—accountability. She teaches high school chemistry and biology to classes comprised predominantly of minorities and immigrants. These are arguably the toughest courses in high school, especially if they're taught correctly. Four years ago, 'Miss Z,' as she's known to her students, instituted a new policy in her classes that has parents (single and married alike) cheering, school administrators in a dither, and students working harder than ever. Her policy? No D's allowed. Students either pass with a legitimately earned C or they fail. Period. No excuses, no exceptions, not even for seniors on the cusp of graduating. Mediocrity is not tolerated or rewarded in Miss Z's classes. Extra help is always available (she routinely stays after school for hours helping students while most other teachers are in their cars five minutes after the closing bell) and the students'attitude and effort count as well. But in the end, the bottom line is still the bottom line: 70 passes, 69 fails.

The result is surprising. Her pass rate exceeds that of the other science teachers at the school, and her students, of course, have a far better understanding of the material. She's also extremely popular among the student body, with students clamoring to get into her class. It's tough, but they know from the unrelenting win—loss nature of the courses that they're being prepared for the challenges of imminent adulthood. Miss Z tells them so, explicitly, and they respond accordingly and appropriately.

This is walking the walk, doing the right thing even when it's not easy or popular. Trying to win popularity contests, putting others' approval ('We want America to be admired by other countries, above all else!') ahead of genuine accomplishment, and allowing wrongs to go unpunished only leads to more of the same. Enough talk.

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contributor.